How to Find a New Window
In nine years, I spent over 1,600 days with students in the classroom. On those days and many others (because we know what “vacation” means), I spent countless evening, weekend, and summer hours working to get better – whether it was time spent developing curriculum, refining a test, reading about best practices, or talking to families. Yet, of those 1,600+ days (over 11,000 hours!), I spent only 1 day observing another teacher at another school, learning from the practices of that peer. That’s 5 hours. 5 hours out of 11,000 teaching hours devoted to cultivating a professional learning community (PLN) that could make the other 10,995 that much more powerful. .04% of time spent. That is a travesty.
Especially now, when I reflect on that one special observation day, I realize just how much I took away. And I just sat in classrooms. No pressure, no observation rubrics, no 30-minute debriefs of “grows” and “glows”. I was there to observe the school’s positive behavior system. I learned that I wanted kids in my middle school to take ownership of the system and celebrate their successes. I also learned that I did not want students to write a 500-word letter about making wiser decisions. I took a step out, and from that distance was able to bring into clear focus what I wanted my classroom to look like. The single observation day informed my practice for years to come – no detentions, no punitive measures – you earn what you work for and we will work together to reach your goals.
I could list the things we know to be true about PD’s shortcomings but that would make me sad. Instead, I want to talk about something that makes me happy: teachers collaborating with other teachers. It is crucial that teachers get together to talk with each other, share, support, and help each other grow. We need to see how others teach, and not just in a model school with demonstration classrooms, although these observations are critically valuable. We need to see each other grapple with the same obstacles and achieve the same successes in the same context. Those 5 hours were so valuable because I had that opportunity.
As always, things are easier said than done so what can you do to observe other classrooms? Consider these steps to make the possibility a reality for you.
- Research your school/district’s professional development policies: Some districts provide a day for observations!
- Coverage: Before discussing an observation period or day with your administrator, come with a tentative plan for any coverages you may need. Talk to your colleagues about friendly coverage or free periods. Doing the legwork prior to a conversation with an administrator may just help.
- Rationale: Outline reasons why you want to take an observation period or day. Where do you want to observe? What do you hope to see? What is your focus area? How will the experience make you a better educator? What do you need to be better? Communicating these goals to your administrator will help them (a) see the value of providing the opportunity; (b) message you are going to make it worthwhile; (c) impress them with your drive to improve.
- Purpose: In everything you do, such as advocating for yourself to have a PD day, remember you are doing it for your students. It’s not a day off; it’s a day on. A day when you devoting yourself to moving onward in your practice – finding new ideas, connecting with colleagues, and making a plan to bring all that energy back into your room.
We want our students to listen to each other, build knowledge together, and grow as learners in order to prepare for the future. Except that is not the reality of the present for many teachers. And that needs to change.